Big fan of Tufte on visual displays of information. Just getting that we can study this stuff and make it better does it for me. When I was speaking last night I used his “Challenger” anecdote — how Feynman’s vivid demonstration of what happened to the o-rings conveyed what hours of engineering work and obscured reporting could not. (Feynman dropped an o-ring into ice water during the hearings, plucked it out and snapped it, contrasted with slide after slide of unclear technical conclusions and poorly done illustrations trying to show that o-rings got brittle at cold temperatures.) Envisioning information well boosts impact.

Now, statistics (lies, damn lies and statistics) can be massaged to show whatever the proponent wants to, err, propone. That’s not the information impact I have in mind.

I’m talking about when relatively neutral data gets hurled at the whiteboard… Sometimes what “sticks” lets us “see it again for the first time” (thank you, creepy little elephant girl)…

Today’s information impact rock star* is Jonathan Cousins, so nominated for his fun/freaky visualization of 2004 world migration data. Let’s say you needed to say “more people than you think are immigrating to Russia”. Would you just say it and hope to be believed? Would you back it up with:

  • Many people are immigrating to Russia
  • X thousands of people a year are immigrating to Russia

What if you just show this?, cropped and labeled so Russia jumps out?**

YOU can boost information impact by:

  • Making it graphic (no, not another damned excel table, something effective, please)
  • Using storytelling motion (even Seth Godin’s nominee for worst ppt slide EVER could work we were led along a ‘sensical’ path through that ugly technoecosystem)
    • NOT extraneous motion — pointless animations, nauseating transitions, etc.
  • Placing it in context
  • Providing a familar frame of reference
    • And drawing the frame you need to draw (ie, zooming in on Russia in the example above)
  • Amplify “signal,” reduce “noise” (Jonathan’s example is “noisy” but it’s not really trying to be signal. But what you use to tell your story should.)

Please, just do it effectively and ethically.

Tell us, what insights do YOU draw from Cousins’ work?

Fun with earth visualizations (thanks Paul Kedrosky):

*Yes, as a matter of fact, you DO smell an impending recurring theme for my blog posts…

**Tangent: in the lies, damn lies, and statistics department: you can answer where Russia gets all this immigration by simply finding all the former Soviet Republics on the map and dragging their wee boxes to be near Russia’s. Turns out the story is not so much about “oh my god they’re flooding into Russia” as it is about migration that would once have been deemed “internal”.